Policy scribbling

MN capitol

(Source: Flikr Creative Commons)

Governor Dayton delivered his State of the State address last night. I never used to pay much attention to them, but that changed in 2012.

The evening of February 15, 2012, I gave a talk to Women, Wisdom, and Wine on Minnesota’s economy and how it became above average.  It was a wonderful evening with an especially lively Q and A period.

A nice part of giving the talk was staying overnight in Minneapolis. I got to my room and checked my email in case students had questions about the next day’s homework.  Instead of student emails, I had a bunch of notes from friends saying that the governor had mentioned my work, and my name, in his State of the State address that night.

I immediately went to YouTube and found the address; sure enough, he did:

When this magnificent Capitol opened in 1905, Minnesota was a very different state. And
not nearly as successful.

Our citizens’ per-capita income was below the rest of the country’s, and it dropped to only 85% of the national average by 1920. There it floundered for the next 25 years, before beginning a gradual climb to parity with the rest of the country in the 1960’s, rising above the national average in the 1970’s, and continuing to improve thereafter.

So how did Minnesota become above average? The President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis recently noted, as have others, that the number of educated people in our state’s labor force is higher than in the nation; therefore their productivity and their work quality are better.

MinnPost’s Louis Johnston attributes our success to high rates of labor force participation, especially by women; our greater investments in human capital, such as education and health care; and both public sector and private sector investments in physical capital.

I mention this not to toot my own horn (ok, maybe a little tweet.)  Rather, it reminds me that what we do in academia can matter in the policy process.  We scribble, scribble, scribble, and we wonder whether or not anyone reads what we write.

I like to think there are readers out there who benefit from our scribbling, especially when we put our ideas in clear language supported by evidence.  That’s what I try to do and hope to continue doing for the foreseeable future. I hope someone is out there reading what I, and others, are writing.